Six weeks ago I discussed -- as a dispassionate political scientist -- why the field of political science was good and truly f**ked when it came to Congress. Yesterday, Dave Weigel blogged about this at more length. The depressing parts version:
Attacking government-funded social science is popular, especially on the right. Last week, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill that would change the American Community Survey, sent annually to a random selection of 3.2 million people, from mandatory to optional. If Americans didn’t want to fill it out, even if that would render it mostly useless as data, the private sector would do just fine.
When I asked Poe to explain how that information would be collected without the Community Survey, he said, “There are other ways to get the same information about the dynamics of business, and where to locate a business. You can do it through polling. You don’t have to force people to participate.”
Social scientists don’t agree, but it’s difficult for them to justify their own funding in a time of severe government cutbacks....
The new attempts to claw away at research have gone on for months, and the academics haven’t put up a compelling defense beyond one event on the Hill and the yeoman blogging of some professors like John Sides. “Going forward,” Sides wrote after Coburn’s win, “a coordinated lobbying effort is needed not only to roll back the restrictions on political science but to defend the NSF’s core mission as a promoter of scientific research in the public good, broadly defined.”
So far that lobbying effort doesn’t exist. Instead, Republicans are able to challenge NSF funding in order to pursue long-term political goals without too many people noticing.
To understand further why this will be so difficult, let's go to the video clip of the week, which right now is probably the revenge fantasy of every political scientist out there. Via the Military Times, this is General Ray Odierno chewing out House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with the bemused permission of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon. The chewing out part starts at around 3:30.
Now, watching that clip, it's hard not to conclude that Hunter was taken to the woodshed by Odierno for being an ignorant jackass. That's certainly the conclusion that Gawker, Mediaite, and others came to in promoting the clip.
Now, here's a fun exercise -- what if Odierno had been an irate political scientist rather than a four-star general? I guarantee you that the exchange would have been framed and interpreted differently. Because of the high public respect for the military, when Odierno goes off, people will listen. Not so with academics. Instead of "General smacks down House representative," the headline would have looked more like "Snotty academic preens at elected official."
In fact, we don't need to imagine. Remember this little exchange between House Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and historian Douglas Brinkley from about 18 months ago?
Now, Don Young has all the charisma and grace of a three-month old carton of milk. He's far more insulting and contemptuous of Brinkley in that clip than Duncan Hunter was in trying to walk away from Odierno. The overall effect, however, is different. First, Young's chairman, Doc Hastings, protected Young in a way that McKeon did not protect Hunter, thereby preventing Brinkley from going on a rant.
Second, however, as bad as Young looks in that video, Brinkley doesn't look that much better. He comes off too much like a preening, stuffed-shirt academic.
Unfortunately, that's an occupational hazard. We're trained in graduate school to eviscerate counterarguments and the people who make them. It might be the one sector in the world where Aaron Sorkin-rules of debate hold up. But it only works because everyone in the seminar room or lecture hall understands the context of the debate. That rarely happens when the public peeks in at a YouTube clip of a congressional hearing.
Are there some political scientists who could pull off an Odierno-level smackdown? I suppose it's possible, but I confess to being dubious about its likelihood (suggestions welcomed in the comments section please).
Now, as a political scientist, I should warn you that viral-video-friendly exchanges like the ones linked above rarely shift public opinion. They are one way to frame the stupidity of a particular Congressional jihad, however. And as much as I might fantasize about a Beth Simmons or a Scott Sagan sticking it to Tom Coburn, I'm not confident that it will ever happen.
Am I missing anything? Please tell me I'm missing something...
UPDATE: I received a call in the last hour from Representative Duncan Hunter's deputy chief of staff, who lodged a polite protest over the descriptive term "ignorant jackass," referencing this Politico story. Which is fair enough, but this exchange suggests two things:
1) The staffer didn't read the blog post carefully, because I was using that term to describe how the video made Hunter look -- not whether that depiction was accurate or not.
2) Maybe political scientists blogging/writing for the press actually do have an effect on member of Congress.
Late last night the Twitterverse was alive with the sound of clucking from foreign policy wonks outraged by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's fascinating, detail-rich Washington Post story on the very cozy relationship that think-tankers Fred and Kim Kagan had with multiple commanders in Afghanistan. The highlights:
The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.
The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Fred Kagan, speaking in an interview with his wife, acknowledged the arrangement was “strange and uncomfortable” at times. “We were going around speaking our minds, trying to force people to think about things in different ways and not being accountable to the heads” of various departments in the headquarters, he said.
The extent of the couple’s involvement in Petraeus’s headquarters was not known to senior White House and Pentagon officials involved in war policy, two of those officials said....
As war-zone volunteers, the Kagans were not bound by stringent rules that apply to military personnel and private contractors. They could raise concerns directly with Petraeus, instead of going through subordinate officers, and were free to speak their minds without repercussion.
Some military officers and civilian U.S. government employees in Kabul praised the couple’s contributions — one general noted that “they did the work of 20 intelligence analysts.” Others expressed deep unease about their activities in the headquarters, particularly because of their affiliations and advocacy in Washington.
Now, the standard reaction has been to blast the Kagans and Petraeus for being exemplars of the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours collusion between top military brass and think-tankers. It evokes the DC clubbiness that induces nausea in some quarters.
I can't quite get there, however. I can almost get there. The three most damning elements of the story are:
1) The Kagans emailing Stanley McChrystal (and ccing Petraeus) because their requests to visit Afghanistan were getting slow-rolled. In the email, they said that they were concluding that the strategy was not going well. Soon afterwards, they got access and then wrote a WSJ op-ed praising the strategy;
2) When Petraeus was the Afghanistan commander, the Kagans would occasionally "spar" with field commanders because they believed these officers weren't focusing on the Haqqani network more. This made the officers decidedly uncomfortable, since the Kagans obviously weren't in the chain of command.
3) Kim Kagan wrote fundraising letters for her think tank while in Afghanistan so the Kagans could stay in-country and volunteer for CENTCOM rather than take any money from them.
I think these are somewhat valid concerns, and yet....
a) One of Chandrasekaran's implications is that a critical op-ed by the Kagans would have undercut GOP support for the Afhanistan strategy. This strikes me as way, way, way, way exaggerating the influence of the Kagans. There was no groundswell in the GOP to get out of Afghanistan, so a critical op-ed would have simply led to demands for greater resources in that theater of operations.
b) The Kagans' place in Petraeus' HQ clearly upset some military subordinates -- and yet I can't get too upset that they were made uncomfortable. As the story notes, one of the reasons Petraeus wanted the Kagans there was to have an outside perspective on the operation. No one inside the uniformed services is gonna like that, because it dilutes their own authority. Indeed, the other way to spin this is that Petraeus was wary of getting too wrapped up in the military bubble and craved outside input. Isn't that what you want as a check against organizational groupthink?
c) I'm not gonna defend the fundraising letter -- that seems... unseemly. Castigating the Kagans for not being on Petraeus' payroll, however, also seems a bit strange. This might have been a pay-for-play move for influence, but I don't think it was about money.
From Petraeus' side, having the Kagans there clearly served a dual purpose. Sure, he got an outside voice, but he was also able to co-opt potential critics with this gambit. Whether this is a good thing or not for American foreign policy is an honest matter of debate. It seems like Petraeus only coddled more hawkish military advisors, and it's likely the case that they would have been the bigger media thorn.
As a general rule, however, I can't get too worked up about government officials seeking outside input. This becomes a problem only if the outreach/co-optation is so successful that it shields a policy from any criticism -- and not even Petraeus is that good at stroking think-tankers.
I understand the concerns that some Petraeus critics have with his relationship with the Kagans. I share some of them. But I would be equally wary of policy principals that refused to engage with outsiders or refused to consider information from outside their own bureaucracies.
What do you think?
One of this blog's minor keys over the years has been the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy. I don't mean this in the "all the U.S. does is bomb! Bomb!! BOMB!!!" way. Rather, as the bulk of the U.S. international affairs budget has shifted towards the defense department, so has the operational control of American foreign policy. This extends to cabinet-level appointments, as ex-generals wind up occupying too many foreign policy principal positions.
Last week, I speculated that the Petraeus scandal might cause a reassessment of trust in the military. To my pleasant surprise, this appears to be happening, but in a targeted and focused manner. That is to say, what's being questioned is the behavior, ethics and massive perks of the military's top brass.
At the same time, perhaps it's beginning to dawn on some foreign policy commentators that America's diplomatic corps has been undervalued. The Wikleaks cables, for example, revealed U.S. diplomats to be extremely acute in their assessments of foreign counterparts. The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens has regrettably highlighted the risks that the diplomatic corps faces in some of their postings. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made economic statecraft a priority during her tenure at Foggy Bottom. As her speech in Singapore a few days ago suggested, the ball is rolling on quite a few significant agreements -- a point that has been raised here recently.
So this could be a moment when U.S. diplomats can wrest just a wee bit of influence back from the generals. Which is great -- unless one reads this Robert Worth story from yesterday's New York Times Magazine:
[Ambassador Chris Stevens'] death was treated as a scandal, and it set off a political storm that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said, seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies across the greater Middle East. The death of an ambassador would not be seen as the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.
Lost in all this partisan wrangling was the fact that American diplomacy has already undergone vast changes in the past few decades and is now so heavily encumbered by fortresslike embassies, body armor and motorcades that it is almost unrecognizable. In 1985 there were about 150 security officers in U.S. embassies abroad, and now there are about 900. That does not include the military officers and advisers, whose presence in many embassies — especially in the Middle East — can change the atmosphere. Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries.
The barriers are there for a reason: Stevens’s death attests to that, as do those of Americans in Beirut, Baghdad and other violent places. But the reaction to the attack in Benghazi crystallized a sense among many diplomats that risks are less acceptable in Washington than they once were, that the mantra of “security” will only grow louder. As a result, some of the country’s most distinguished former ambassadors are now asking anew what diplomacy can achieve at such a remove.
“No one has sat back to say, ‘What are our objectives?’ ” said Prudence Bushnell, who was ambassador to Kenya when the Qaeda bombing took place there in 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring 4,000. “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them, and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”
If U.S. diplomats have to do the bulk of their work behind fortresses, then pretty soon there will be no difference between their worldview and those of the four-star generals. The more a foreign policy official lives in a protective bubble, the less nimble they will be with rapidly shifting circumstances on the ground. And if there is any lesson from 21st century diplomacy, it's that things shift on the ground really fast.
In a world of real-time diplomacy, a fundamental truth has to be acknowledged in Washington: being a foreign service officer carries risks with it. While, all else equal, those risks should be minimized, the U.S. needs to live with some degree of risk rather than sacrifice the ability of its diplomats to interact and engage with counterparts and locals in foreign countries.
Rather than the simple mantra of "never again" when reacting to the death of Ambassador Stevens, the life and mission he desired should be valorized a bit more. Stevens knew that the best way to advance U.S. interests in Libya was to be on the ground. Doing that from embassies that resemble Orwell's Ministry of Truth is a difficult task.
There is a tradeoff between protecting U.S. officials overseas and promoting their ability to advance the national interest. I fear the pendulum has swung way too far towards the protection side, and Stevens' death will only exacerbate that shift. The cruel irony is that Stevens, of all people, would have abhorred that shift. Better that we openly acknowledge the risk that foreign service officers face in overseas postings, recognize the bravery and loyalty that their service entails, and let them do their f***king jobs.
Am I missing anything?
Look, let's be blunt -- as a responsible foreign policy blogger, I should be trying to divert your attention away from the tawdriness that is the David Petraeus scandal. There's no shortage of other interesting stuff happening in the world. Things like Argentina's slow-moving debt debacle, or the discord between the EU and IMF over Greece, or even the possibility of the United States overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer.
The thing is, I can't, I just can't. I'm weak, and the way this scandal has metastasized is friggin' incredible. The best summary of where things stand right now comes from Ace of Spades' Gabriel Malor:
Jill Kelley, the woman who was (allegedly) threatened by Gen. Petraeus's squeeze Paula Broadwell and who (apparently) started the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus' ouster, who went to the FBI for help after the threats and then (allegedly) had a relationship with the FBI agent in charge of her own case, who (allegedly) sent her shirtless pics of himself, also (apparently, allegedly) had "compromising" communications with Gen. John Allen, the Big Damn Commander of our war effort in Afghanistan.
Yeah, that's about where we are now, and I'm afraid of checking my Twitter feed because there might have been new developments.
Look, America's foreign policy community is gonna be transfixed on this for a spell. Because it's got that car-crash quality that means it is just impossible to look away. This is the kind of scandal that causes the Daily Beast's writing style to go so over the top that it actually published the following sentence: "Broadwell may be able to run a six-minute mile with Petraeus, but Kelley looks like a woman who lets the guys do all the running—and in her direction." I'm surprised they didn't embed a whip sound at the end of that sentence.
And that's the interesting thing if one steps back for a second. To repeat a theme, the American people by and large don't care much about foreign policy and national security. But, based on my deep immersion into supermarket checkout literature, they do appear to be very interested in tawdry sex scandals and reality television. Well, this scandal has copious amounts of this -- plus, you know, power.
So unlike, say, questions about drone warfare or counterterrorism policy or homeland security or civil liberties, Americans will pay attention to this stuff. Which is interesting, because over the past decade the military has been the one institution to inspire significant amounts of trust in Americans. The less that the public trusts the military, the less that they will trust what the military is doing. And as Thom Shanker notes in the New York Times, this scandal might affect that trust:
[A] worrisomely large number of senior officers have been investigated and even fired for poor judgment, malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence — and that is just in the last year....
Long list of scandas involving top brass]
The episodes have prompted concern that something may be broken, or at least fractured, across the military’s culture of leadership. Some wonder whether its top officers have forgotten the lessons of Bathsheba: The crown of command should not be worn with arrogance, and while rank has its privileges, remember that infallibility and entitlement are not among them.
And this doesn't even get into other scandals at various homeland security agencies *cough* Secret Servivce *cough*.
The military and intelligence communities have been doing a lot of things over the past decade that fall outside the bounds of traditional American foreign policy practices. I'm not saying all of these things are bad -- it's a new century, new kinds of threats, and so forth. But most Americans have passively gifted these agencies a lot of goodwill for them to do what they want. I wonder whether a silly sex scandal will change all that.
As I try to sort out all of the implications of Operation Odyssey Dawn, I see two memes that should be thought of in concert. The first one is the striking fact that the United States seemed to be following rather than leading on organizing the U.N. Security Council to take action. The second theme is that Libya is way far down on the list of America's Middle East priorities, so the United States should be wary about the opportunity costs of getting too involved.
Combining these two memes makes me think of my wedding -- and therefore why this aspect of U.S. policy towards Libya might be a good thing.
Let me explain. When my lovely bride and I were planning our nuptials, we were wary of excessive parental interventions on the issues we really cared about -- the vows, the food, the music, the seating arrangements, etc. Of course, these were our parents, so a stonewalling strategy wasn't going to work terribly well either.
Faced with this policy conundrum, we hit upon a brilliant idea -- we had to give them an issue that they cared about fervently but didn't really matter to us all that much. So, we had the Official Blog Moms decide on the favors that would be at every place-setting.
This proved to be a brilliant maneuver. We would receive constant updates and debates about what was under consideration. When receiving all of this information, we would smile, nod, and say, "we trust you to make the right decision." All the while, we took care of the Big Wedding Issues that were of Serious Importance to Us. I think the result was a win-win -- the parents claimed ownership of something they cared about, but we got the wedding we wanted.
What does this have to do with Libya? This issue clearly animates French President Nicolas Sarkozy more than U.S. President Barack Obama (surprisingly, given France's past preferences on these kind of issues). Sarkozy has been receiving plaudits for his leadership. Which is great on two counts. First, it (hopefully) means that after the initial efforts to ensure that Libya's air defenses are neutralized, the United States really can let France and the U.K. take the lead on operational activities.
Second, I share other's concerns that an excessive focus on Libya might distract the top U.S. leadership from Other Really Big Events. What holds for the United States holds for France with even greater force, however. In that sense, then, the more that Sarkozy is obsessed with Libya, the less time he can devote to
overambitious and ultimately futile grand economic designs his pet projects in preparation for the 2011 G-20 summit.
Much like big weddings, many things could go wrong along the way -- but I think pundits need to appreciate the positive second-order effects of letting France be in charge of the chocolate favor--- I mean, the immediate intricacies of enforcing Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya.
What do you think?
Hmmm.... which magazine should I peruse online this AM.... maybe TNR? The National Interest? Nah, I'm not in the mood for deep thinking. I'll just look at Rolling Stone, that won't take much intellectual heavy lifting.... oh, look, a profile of General McChrystal.... hmmm.... um.... holy cats.
Since everyone and their mother has their take on this
Mongolian clusterf**k imbroglio already, I'm not going to bother linking to the rest of the blogosphere. Instead, just a few measured and a few off the cuff reactions:
1. Doris Kearns Goodwin makes the case in today's New York Times that Obama doesn't have to fire McChrystal, pointing out that Union General George McClellan was far ruder to Lincoln, and yet was not fired. This is historically true, but I'm not sure it's really the best example. To put it gently, McClellan was a lousy, timid general -- by letting him stay on, Lincoln accomplished little but to prolong the war.
2. I find myself in agreement with Tom Donnelly and William Kristol:
McChrystal should not be the only one to go. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and “AfPak” czar Richard Holbrooke should likewise either submit their resignations or be fired by President Obama. Vice President Biden and his surrogates should be told to sit down and be quiet, to stop fighting policy battles in the press. The administration's "team of rivals" approach is producing only rivalry.
They're right (see also David Ignatius). McChrystal did himself no favors in the RS article, but he's hardly the only Afghan policy heavyweight to be tarnished by the essay. Eikenberry poisoned the well with his press leaks last year, and Holbrooke is, well, Holbrooke. A clean sweep might be the best move Obama could make.
3) Speaking of neoconservatives, it's worth noting that, contra Josh Rogin's take, GOP policy wonks are reacting the way you would expect a loyal opposition to react. That is to say, sure, they're making hay of the problems with the Afghan strategy, but they're also quite firm in saying that Obama should dire McChrystal. See Kristol, Eliot Cohen, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham.
This should not be terribly surprising. Neoconservatives have been pretty clear all along about civilian control of the military, and McChrystal's gaffes cut right to the heart of this issue.
4) One final point: beyond the descriptions of McChrystal and his aides acting like jackasses in Paris, the RS article was of little use. It presented a slanted portrait of COIN and it's advocates, and seemed determined to paint McChrystal in the worst light possible. As Blake Hounshell observed, it failed to note that at this stage it's impossible to evaluate the COIN strategy, because these approaches tend to have "darkest before the dawn" qualities.
What do you think?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned yesterday against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, saying the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries, with the military playing a supporting role.You expect to hear the phrase "creeping militarization" with regard to U.S. foreign policy from a lot of places -- most of which would be ensconced within the academy. When the Secretary of Defense is saying it, however, it's worth taking notice. More here:"We cannot kill or capture our way to victory" in the long-term campaign against terrorism, Gates said, arguing that military action should be subordinate to political and economic efforts to undermine extremism.
Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, you probably don’t here this often from a Secretary of Defense , it is important that the military is – and is clearly seen to be – in a supporting role to civilian agencies. Our diplomatic leaders – be they in ambassadors’ suites or on the seventh floor of the State Department – must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy.From a standard bureaucratic politics perspective, this kind of behavior is damn unusual. Agency heads usually don't go around saying that other agencies need more resources. Of course, Gates himself likely doesn't think much of that perspective:
One of the reasons I have rarely been invited to lecture in political science departments – including at Texas A&M – is because faculty correctly suspect that I would tell the students that what their textbooks say about government does not describe the reality I have experienced in working for seven presidents.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.